Will the real truth-tellers please stand up?

Source: Bulatalat Online

For the Philippines, there isn’t just a battle for press freedom, there’s a battle for credibility. In a country where memory is a double-edged sword, it takes more than stories to fight back against disinformation. 

The world must have been shell-shocked as another President Marcos made headlines. But for Filipinos, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos did not just spawn out of nowhere. In fact, his rise to power may be one of the most calculated moves in our political landscape.

And already, there are attacks on the press. To give you a picture, two weeks after Bongbong took office, there’s already red-tagging and attacks against reporters—a legacy of the Duterte administration. For one, the National Telecommunications Commission has blocked access to independent news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly. The Securities and Exchange Commission also issued a closure order for Rappler

Suffice to say, while the volunteer-led campaign of ex-vice president Leni Robredo inspired thousands, it failed to stand up against a family’s decades-long plan for return. It’s an open secret that the Marcoses have always been trying to claw their way back to Malacanang. And they have used every trick in the book to do so. 

They have paid trolls to attack journalists online, leveraged social media algorithms to push fake stories, and exploited every nook and cranny of our weak democratic institutions to corrode history, facts, and the painful truths of the Marcos regime.

The result is a diminishing trust in mainstream media networks and a renewed fascination with an ‘alternative’ history heralded, not by experts, but by online vloggers. This phenomenon is further shepherded by the incumbent president, who seeks to legitimize vloggers to give them better access to the Palace.

With this new development, local journalists share the same worry: while it’s a welcome move to diversify reporting, vloggers don’t necessarily ascribe to journalism ethics. They are not bound to editorial standards.

So, it’s hard to win public trust when you’re just telling stories. You are not only fighting against fake news, you are also fighting for credibility. In the majority’s eyes, journalists and experts only report a version of the truth. In some cases, vloggers don’t even have respect for the truth. Most consider vlogging and trolling as side hustles, not something that has pernicious effects on democracy. Thus, it’s easy for facts to be labeled as opinions, and for history to be relegated to mere hearsay. 

The Marcos disinformation machine is way more sophisticated than its truth-telling counterparts. Some individuals earn thousands just from strategizing how to proliferate false information. Those who voice out the truth are red-tagged, slammed with cyber libel cases, and harassed online. Mix this with the obstinacy of social media platforms to regulate certain content, and you’ll realize how preferential social media can be to Marcos vloggers that regularly go viral.

Tiktok, YouTube, and Facebook have been particularly influential in Marcos’ mythmaking. In a country with one of the highest phone and internet use in the world, these digital spaces are exactly where ideas and opinions form.

And newsrooms are beginning to take notice of this, albeit a bit too late. It’s not uncommon now for reporters to use TikTok to break down news in more approachable short video formats. It’s not always easy for reporters, however. After all, the news is not always intended to be bite-sized. It’s also not aesthetically pleasing, nor is it appealing to viewers who have a short attention span. 

Suffice to say, there is no tried and tested formula for reporting on Tiktok yet. In the digital world, reporters often have to catch up on trends just to make the audience read their stories. They do this while navigating corporate interests, not-so-competitive salaries, and long, grueling workdays. The Marcos administration further serves as a reminder that a journalist’s job is more dangerous than ever.  

It’s clear that to protect press freedom, the Philippines—and other countries—cannot rely on the press alone. In an interview with Philstar.com, Rappler reporter, Lian Buan, who covered Marcos’ campaign said it best: “This will be a whole-of-society approach. It can’t be just journalists anymore.” 

After all, guarding the truth and keeping memories from being forgotten is not just the job of a journalist. It’s where teachers, educators, historians, policymakers, cultural workers, and other professionals come in. Because when the truth is at stake, we all have something to lose.  

For now, at least, the opposition has been outwitted. But the real truth-tellers fight on.